Slovene's dispatch soldiers on "historic" Kosovo mission


Slovenia recently deployed the largest army formation in its history to the troubled Serbian province of Kosovo. It's a historic mission for the small country, in more ways than one.

Although Slovenia is much smaller than most of its NATO allies, it's been playing an increasingly active military role in a number of missions. Slovenian soldiers are currently serving in Afghanistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Lebanon. There are also military instructors training Iraqi troops in Baghdad. Since the 1990s, the country has also been active in places like Sudan, Albania, Pakistan and Cyprus, while the Defense Minister recently pledged a platoon for the NATO Reaction Force, to number about 200.

The numbers are small, but add up. This year, 11% of Slovenia's soldiers will serve abroad - a higher percentage than any other NATO member in Europe.

But starting in March, Slovenia will also undertake its biggest mission to date: It will assume command of the western sector of Kosovo. The 10th Motorised Battalion has already deployed for the disputed province and will assume command on the first of March. Brigadeer Alan Gedair, 4th Commander of the Slovenian Armed Forces, describes the army's tasks there:

"It's tasks are to provide peace and stability in the area, secure cultural and historical places and buildings, provide protection for national minorities, and ensure freedom of movement."

The battalion consists of 500 soldiers, with an additonal 100 support personnel, which includes military police, veterinary, medical and logistics units. The costs of the mission are estimated to be around 7 million euros, and is being funded by the Defence Ministry's emergency response budget.

The question of whether there will be serious emergencies to deal with is, of course, a looming one. And the specter was raised when riot police in the province fired rubber bullets into a crowd of thousands of ethnic Albanian protestors, killing two and wounding 70.

Slovenian soldiers, however, will not deploy to the site of the protests, the provincial capital of Pristina, but will take over the relatively quiet towns of Pec and Klina.

Gedair:"Actually, at the moment there are not major problems. But the situation in Kosovo can change in any moment, and that's a very problematic area anyway."

This mission will also be the first time that Slovenian armed forces will command troops of another country, in this case a company of 150 Hungarian soldiers stationed in western Kosovo. Slovenia's soldiers will remain in Kosovo until the end of August.